The East Tripura (ST) constituency, which will now vote on Tuesday on April 23, five days after its original polling date, now has 106 companies of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) guarding it. The state had just 64 companies in the first phase in West Tripura constituency on April 11, after which over 800 complaints of poll irregularities were received.
Despite this stepping up of security, voters in the tribal villages of Fongcherra, Sidongcherra and Sonaimuri Halam Basti in Tripura’s North district, 140 km away from Agartala, say they fear political violence and have received threats against going out to vote. Vanlal Ruatlian Halam, a 34-year-old from Sonaimuri Halam Basti, said that he is not afraid and would still cast his vote. Rina Das, a 50-year-old from Shantipur village, however, is not that confident: “If the situation is not conducive, we shall not go to cast votes.” However, everyone agrees the presence of central security forces had made them feel a bit more secure than before.
Meanwhile, in a video telecast by a Kokborok language television channel on Sunday, Utpal Debbarma, a self-styled leader of the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura’s (NLFT) Biswamohan faction, has instructed voters to cast their mandate in favour of the Congress. The ultra also warned people involved in an attack on Congress candidate and ‘princess’ Pragya Debburman that they would be soon taught a lesson.
BJP spokesperson Nabendu Bhattacharya said they have filed a complaint with the Election Commission and demanded action against the Congress party. He alleged the CPI (M) and Congress had insurgent links and blamed them for deferring the elections. Tripura Congress vice-president Tapas Dey countered that the BJP was trying to malign the Congress out of desperation since they have lost their support base. The CPI (M) too has denied any link with any insurgent outfits.
In 2013, the MHA had declared the NLFT and ATTF and their factions unlawful. The NLFT was formed on March 12, 1989, with Dhananjoy Reang as its self-styled chairman. Reang was expelled from NLFT in 1993 and Nayanbasi Jamatia became the leader of the faction. In another split in 2001, a faction led by Biswamohan Debbarma emerged, which is now the main active wing of the outfit. The outfit was outlawed in 1997 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and later under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).
The East Tripura constituency has 12,61,861 voters including 6,20,342 women and four voters from the third gender. The constituency, spread across six districts and 30 Assembly segments, has 1,645 polling stations in 1,349 locations.
The state electoral authority has deployed central security personnel in 80 per cent of the polling stations after additional central forces arrived.
On April 16, an Election Commission of India notification said reports received from Tripura CEO and Special Police Observer indicated the law and order situation prevailing in East Tripura Parliamentary constituency is “not conducive” to hold a free and fair poll in the constituency on April 18. As a result, the election was deferred to April 23.
Tripura Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Sriram Taranikanti, who initially said the first phase of polling was ‘overall free, fair and peaceful’, admitted poll irregularities and said over 800 complaints were lodged in West Tripura seat. The CEO added that footage from webcasting cameras installed in different polling booths are being scrutinised and action being taken against errant election personnel.
Tripura DGP Akhil Kumar Shukla on Monday said over 4,000 state para-military personnel from Tripura State Rifles (TSR) along with 200 officers were deployed in the constituency. The police have so far registered 107 cases on poll irregularities, 34 of them in East Tripura. On Sunday, DIG Arindam Nath had informed that 14 persons were arrested for purportedly vitiating the election process.
East Tripura Returning officer Vikas Singh said strict security arrangements are in place. Meanwhile, the BSF has also intensified vigil along the 856-km Indo-Bangla international border in the state.